Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sixty-one years. Where to start?

In January, my parents will be moving out of their home of sixty-one years to a retirement community located near my sister. Their home, my home, is filled with sixty-one years of memories and junk, both of which are hard to seperate. My father was a machinist, so the basement alone is lined with tools, drills, lathes, you name it. My mother has suggested lighting a match and using a broom to sweep up the remains. I informed her that metal is difficult to burn...

Countless people have seen their parents through this process, so why do I feel like I'm Lewis and Clark, venturing into a foreign land?

My sister and I went back to NJ last month with the idea of cleaning out the eaves and attic and to check up on our parents. Two things reared their ugly heads pretty quickly. One, a single dumpster wouldn't be enough, and two, my parents could no longer deal with maintaining a house. There is something that grabs your guts at those words. Parents, especially mine, are supposed to be eternally strong and able. They can answer all the questions and do the heavy lifting tied to captaining a tiny human through childhood and beyond. They possess secret powers of helping with science projects and creating baking goods that should come with an addiction warning label. Now they are daunted by a body that is not obeying, and a mind that may wander (although that could just be the deafness -- don't get me started -- how loud can one TV set get? Have you ever had to listen to Judge Judy till your eardrums bleed?)

So we're parenting our parents. That's okay. Circle of life, part of love, I get that. Then why am I waking at night from dreams of a house where I can no longer tresspass? The plants of the garden grab at my heart the most. They marked the passing of the years; they were part and parcel of my childhood. And that perhaps is it. My parent's house is my home, my childhood, and even though in the light of day I can see this move as a tremendously positive event for both the safety and health of my parents, I find myself tearing up as I did when I was pregnant. When a TV commercial would send me into wails. Christmas songs are brutal --- "I'll be Home for Christmas," just kill me now.

But a house is not a home that old song said. At 86 years of age, my parents may still have a few good years left. God knows, my mother deserves a break from the endless years of cooking and cleaning. Snow on the front steps is a disaster in the making for my dad's hip. Rationally, this move is the right thing to do, and my parents are showing incredible strength to move to MN, and move away from their few remaining friends. They seem enthusiastic. Let's not get into moving to MN in January -- the apartment came up, it's fantastic, you get it.

It's me who's the chicken.

So, dear readers, for the next month you're my free therapy. In the next few weeks I have to prepare and celebrate Christmas, help my son finish his HS applications (including of video biography, ai carumba), have minor surgery, arrange the plethora of workers needed to clean and and prepare my parent's house for sale, and oh, the book is being published in February. Book? Oh, it's fantastic, it's escapism, you'll love it, but I'll deal with it on it's own.

All of that is doable. I can handle that. What I'm not sure I can handle is driving my parents and sister to the airport. You see, I'm remaining behind a few days to oversee the contractors. Pulling away from the house with my parents in tow as they stare at their memories. Then returning to the house, oh hell... Then locking the door and smelling the essence of home for the last time. Alone. That's the hard part.

Yet humor is the balm of the soul. So you will hear of all the insanity of this process, trust me. If we can laugh together, we can get through this. Yes? Sure.

And if anyone wants a cute, 4 bedroom on 1/2 acre... I'm here.


  1. Oh Sarah, I have tears in my eyes, remembering the old house and a younger Irma and Walter that I first met almost 30 years ago. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  2. Sarah, I feel every ounce of your pain (well, maybe not the part about the HS applications, although the college process was daunting in its own right.) My parents moved out of SP 7 years ago into a bigger house in DE and then moved again last month into a much smaller, single story home about 6 miles away. The first move was very hard for us, closing up the childhood home and all its memories. The second was equally hard, having to help them downsize, knowing the move was precipitated by health concerns. We are the "sandwich generation" and as long as there are medical advances that help people live longer, someday we will be the upper slice instead of the meat in the middle. Miss you!